Ex-Player on Jon Gruden: ‘I Never Viewed Him As Racist, but Those Emails Depict a Different Person’

It’s been 18 years since Shaun King last played for Jon Gruden, but the former NFL quarterback remembers their interactions well.

King, who is black, said the two disagreed often during their time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and 2003, but he never sensed any racial undertones to their arguments.

“We butted heads all the time, but it was more because I viewed him as egotistical, self-centered and 100% totally all about Jon,” King told Compare.bet. “It was never because I thought it was based on skin color or anything race-based.”

When King read about the collection of racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and lewd emails reportedly sent by Gruden between 2011 and 2018, he was taken aback.

“The first email I saw was the one directed at (NFLPA executive director) DeMaurice Smith,” King said. “I was shocked by it, actually, because it was so distasteful and so unnecessary. It illuminates that sometimes you think you know someone, and maybe you don’t. You just know what their presentation to you is. It was disappointing.”

After the New York Times uncovered the second wave of emails, King knew Gruden’s time as coach of the Raiders was done.

“What has the NFL been pushing from a narrative standpoint? Upward mobility and equality for women,” King said. “You see women being hired within a lot of organizations in roles that traditionally were only for men. And inclusivity, whether it be sexual, religion, right to protest. When those emails came out, I knew the end was near. You can’t defend that verbiage. 

“A championship football team is built on accountability, discipline and respect. The fact that they have a gay player, and then it comes out what he said about the kid from Missouri that was drafted (Michael Sam). It’s impossible now to go to (Carl Nassib) and explain that.”

King was asked if his opinion of Gruden has changed upon reading the emails.

“That’s an interesting question,” King said. “I don’t know if I have an answer for it yet. I know it’s opened my eyes. Maybe there was a lot more hate there than I had presumed. 

“If he’s willing to change, then I’m willing to accept it. I’m not one of these fire and brimstone guys, like, ‘Hey man, fire him and take his job.’ I’m a Christian, so I believe if someone really wants to change, they can. Because of my faith, I always give people an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Hopefully he will learn from this.”

King believes Gruden and his email correspondent, former Washington Football Team executive Bruce Allen, are far from the only ones atop the NFL with such views.

“There are a lot of other guys in that league in positions of power who have said things like Jon, who are trying to cover their tracks right now,” King said. “They’re going back and looking through their emails.”

Gruden did not seem to act very contrite in the wake of the Smith email, and King said some introspection needs to be done.

“He just has to look inside, because when you write something like that and send it, you mean it,” King said. “If you’re joking with your boys, hydrating and having a couple cocktails, somebody might say something slick. But when you sit down and form sentences… it’s hard to turn around and say you didn’t mean anything by it. In my personal interactions with Jon Gruden, I never viewed him as racist, but those emails depict a different person.”

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